Matthew Tavarez ‘22
Established over 125 years ago, Mercersburg Academy was racially and religiously segregated at its founding in 1893. At the time Mercersburg was an all male school, not opening its doors to female students until almost 75 years after its establishment. As a community, Mercersburg has come a long way in terms of its diversity; however, it is not easy to uproot the inherently divided history on which the institution rests. There were times in which students of color and other marginalized groups felt like they were not part of the Mercersburg community due to their skin color, their beliefs, their gender, or another identifier.
A commitment to address institutional inequities started with a new focus last year. With the increasing realization that members of marginalized communities must be supported with programmatic attention, Head of School Katie Titus and Assistant Head of Student Life and Culture Chris Howes set the wheels in motion. A task force focused on diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice produced recommendations in the Spring of 2019 that led to the creation of a standing DEIJ committee composed of faculty members, administrators, and students.
Titus commented upon the impulses that led to the newest DEIJ initiative. “It was a series of events, starting with the anniversaries last year (55 years of black student integration and 30 years of the BSU), the heart-breaking story of Tom Leslie (our first black graduate), our first Black Alumni Reunion, and my own continued learning. Of course, the reawakening to racial injustice in our country and the Black@Instagram movement certainly added to a sense of urgency. Finally, it has also been the voices of our own community, our students and faculty, who inspire me to help us be better at understanding what it means to be an antiracist community with a commitment to equity and inclusion.”
This DEIJ undertaking is crucial for Mercersburg in order to ensure that all community members feel safe and supported. Mel Cort ’23, member of the DEIJ committee, said, “Not only does the committee act on the needs of the marginalized community members of Mercersburg, we can work on making the school a more equitable environment in which everyone can feel comfortable sharing their experiences and advocate for what they need to be successful. We’re creating a norm against hate to make the school the best it can be for all of our community members.”
The committee itself won’t function without the stewardship of the faculty. English teacher Leela Woody will lead the on-campus initiatives this year. She has already divided the large committee into focused sub-committees. Additionally, the school has contracted with a DEIJ consulting firm that will work with the committee to recommend an action plan for Mercersburg and hire a Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion who will join the faculty in the fall of 2021.
Committee member Isonah Dlodlo ’22 stated, “[The Committee] provides an official platform for both students and faculty to join together and plan real change.”